One toll hike may not be enough

Two more fare increases loom for drivers crossing the Golden Gate Bridge despite the recent decision to increase tolls by $1.

The toll hike approved last week means cash-paying drivers will shell out $6 to cross the Golden Gate Bridge, and that price could soon rise to $8.

Citing the need to make up a projected five-year, $91 million operating budget shortfall, the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District agreed to a $1 increase on cash and FasTrak tolls. The new rates may take effect in September.

A separate proposal by the bridge district to raise cash tolls by $1 during busy travel times is currently under discussion.

Separate from the bridge district — but still affecting drivers crossing the iconic span — is a third plan to charge another $1 fee on the seismically unsafe Doyle Drive. That plan is currently being considered by San Francisco transportation officials.

“We are still investigating many options to rebuild Doyle Drive, including congestion pricing,” said Joe Arellano, spokesman for Mayor Gavin Newsom.

Because the toll on Doyle Drive would only affect southbound drivers, North Bay politicians have strongly opposed the idea, calling it a “Marin commuter tax.”

The extra fare on Doyle Drive is the only way to generate much-needed funding to rebuild the aging expanse, said Tilly Chang, deputy director of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, which is leading the effort to restore the 72-year-old structure.

The Doyle Drive project has a current price tag of $1.01 billion, although the SFCTA is investigating ways to reduce the cost. So far, $640 million has been identified for the rebuild.

“We’re looking at a whole host of options to make up the shortfall,” Chang said. “But a Doyle Drive toll is the most effective possibility to raise funds.”

A $1 toll on Doyle Drive would generate about $18 million a year, Chang said. Any plan for a toll on the approach would have to be approvedby state legislators.

Golden Gate Bridge district officials will meet Wednesday with technical advisors from the U.S. Department of Transportation to discuss the components of a congestion-reducing toll.

Earlier this year, the bridge district submitted two proposals for higher tolls during peak travel times. One option would charge both FasTrak and cash users an extra $1, while the other would increase cash prices by $1 and FasTrak costs by 50 cents.

The Department of Transportation, which required that the bridge district implement a congestion toll in order to save the Bay Area region $158 million in federal grant money, balked at the proposal, saying it would not affect driver behavior enough to reduce traffic.

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

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